There are many films that have picked up a reputation for being “cursed,” and one that may actually deserve it. It’s the lingering effects of radiation that haunted this film. And in true horror movie fashion, the film crew brought the curse home with them.
The Conqueror has developed many different bad reputations, and deserves every one of them. It cast John Wayne as Genghis Khan. It includes dialog like, “I stole you. I will keep you. Before the sun sets you will come willingly to my arms.” And it may have killed many of the people working on it.
Instead of going to the expense of shooting in Mongolia, the film was shot in St. George, Utah, which was relatively close to Hollywood. It was even closer to the Nevada Test Site. Over 800 atomic bombs were set off at the site, and although none were set off during the three months of the shoot, the cast was eating, drinking, and bathing in contaminated material. The Conqueror first earned its reputation as a “cursed” production when it bombed at the box office, but as the years went on, the public learned of the effects of nuclear bombs, and the death toll for the movie cast mounted, the film became known for another kind of curse. This was the era of glamorous chain smokers, and there is no way to establish the time spent in St. George as the cause of the later health problems for the cast, but the film’s five biggest stars all died of cancer.
Nobody knows exactly how many residents of St. George died due to the contamination of their air, water, and soil, but some counts estimate that half the town contracted cancer. Just to round out the disaster, The Conqueror brought its contamination home. Concerned that re-shoots on a Hollywood lot wouldn’t match the coloration of the Utah mountains, Howard Hughes, the producer, insisted that the crew bring back sixty tons of soil back to Los Angeles. So if you’re in the area, don’t breathe too much.